JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Supreme Court struck down on
Tuesday a $350,000 limit on jury awards for "pain and suffering" in
medical malpractice cases, saying the law violates a patient's right
to a jury trial.
The cap on malpractice awards was established by a 2005 state law
that was championed by Republicans as part of a "tort reform" push.
In a 4-3 decision, the court said the cap "infringes on the
jury's constitutionally protected purpose of determining the amount
of damages sustained by an injured party," in cases involving
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Deborah Watts of
Springfield, Mo., whose son, Naython, was born with catastrophic
brain injuries at Cox South Hospital in 2006 after a delay in
receiving an emergency C-section. A Greene County jury last year
awarded Watts nearly $5 million, which was then reduced under the
The high court decision "ensures that Naython will receive the
benefit of the jury's award for future medical care," according to
the ruling written by Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman.
"This is a really good day for the citizens of Missouri who
believe in our Constitution," said Kansas City attorney Tim Dollar,
president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys.
Capping medical malpractice awards was the keystone of the
Republicans' business-oriented agenda in 2005.
That legislation was pushed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a
Republican, as a way to control rising medical malpractice insurance
rates. Similar measures had been vetoed twice by Blunt's
predecessor, Bob Holden, a Democrat.
Blunt, who now lives in Virginia, said Tuesday that the law he
signed was "a thoughtful approach to addressing a lawsuit crisis in
our state. This Missouri Supreme Court decision eliminating a key
provision of that law will harm hospitals, doctors, nurses and
patients and sends the wrong message to potential job creators about
Missouri's legal climate."
Republican legislators expressed bitter disappointment Tuesday
with the Supreme Court's ruling. They said they would consider
asking state voters to amend the constitution to reinstate the caps.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said
the court had reversed a "well-reasoned decision" from 1992 that
found damage caps did not violate the right to a jury trial.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, a physician and a Republican from St. Joseph,
said that because of the decision, rural areas would return to the
days when they could not keep specialists such as obstetricians and
"It's just outrageous," Schaaf said. "The Supreme Court's
decision is ultimately going to translate into endangering the lives
of Missourians and their health."
Schaaf said he would like to see the Legislature call itself into
special session to place a constitutional amendment on the November
ballot to restore the caps.
He said amending the constitution was the best option, because
that way, whatever the Republican-dominated Legislature passes would
go straight to state voters and would not need Democratic Gov. Jay
Four judges appointed by Democratic governors made up the court
majority in Tuesday's decision.
Chief Justice Teitelman - who was appointed by former Gov. Holden
- was joined by Supreme Court Judges Laura Denvir Stith, another
Holden appointee, and George W. Draper III, who was appointed by
The fourth member of the majority was special judge Sandra C.
Midkiff. A Jackson County circuit judge, Midkiff filled in for
Supreme Court Judge Zel Fischer, who did not participate in the
case. Judges do not give reasons why they sit out. …